Economy: Budget Statement - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:14 pm on 13th November 2018.

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Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 7:14 pm, 13th November 2018

My Lords, for many on these Benches there are measures to welcome in this Budget: for instance, the decision to increase the work allowances within universal credit for families with children and people with disabilities, as other noble Lords have mentioned. This goes a substantial way towards reversing the cuts announced in 2015. Likewise, the announcement of measures to aid the transition to universal credit, worth £1 billion over five years, is also welcome, as is the additional and non-repayable run-on support for new claimants to help people manage during the five-week waiting period before their first payment. However, I am disappointed that the run-on support does not cover the child elements of universal credit.

This House has heard my views before, and indeed the views of many Bishops, on the two-child limit. We hoped the Budget might have addressed this. A policy that penalises children through no fault of their own seems unfair and damaging. Furthermore, there is disappointment that, having made the courageous decision to reduce fixed-odds betting limits from £100 to £2, the Government have delayed implementation. As many are saying, if it is right to do, it is right to do as soon as possible. However, the subject of this debate is,

“the economy in the light of the Budget Statement”,

and some of us were hoping for a greener economy as a result of this Budget. I express some dismay that hardly any mention of this has been made from all sides of our House, although with some exceptions.

There are some things to welcome, such as the investment of £20 million next year to,

“improve sustainability and innovation in tackling single-use plastic waste”,

which will be a benefit if plastic producers actually modify their methods to increase recycled content above 30%. I know that this coming Thursday the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is to move,

“that this House takes note of the threat of plastic to the environment”.

The urban tree-planting initiative will do something to help offset our carbon output and improve the immediate environment for many of our citizens. The £20 million for local authorities to tackle air quality is also welcome. It remains to be seen whether the Government’s industrial energy transformation fund to encourage businesses with high energy use to switch to greener sources will be effective, especially in light of the discontinuation of enhanced allowances for energy and waste-efficient equipment.

However, it seems that these measures in the Budget, although welcome, simply do not go far enough to tackle and reduce our contribution to climate change and the ongoing damage to animal and bird habitats in this country and beyond. Some of your Lordships may recall the damage that was done to Wanstead Flats, in the diocese where I serve, this summer at the height of the heatwave. Over 200 firefighters battled for four days to contain a grass fire. Wanstead Flats is a magnificent resource for the people of east London. It is the gateway to Epping Forest and a home to rare skylarks and migrating birds. Of course, urban grass fires always have and always will break out, but we can no longer ignore the evidence that our hottest summers are, on average, getting hotter and our coldest winters are getting colder. It is therefore more likely that rural and urban wildfires, and all kinds of other disasters, will be more common and more devastating. Yet although this Budget came in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the warning that we have about 12 years to substantially cut our emissions, it did not substantially address our increasingly desperate environmental situation and the stark predictions that the IPCC reports. What was needed was a Budget containing measures that would seriously reduce our carbon emissions through more wide-ranging environmental taxes and a more intentional shift in departmental spending budgets away from activities and suppliers that damage our environment.

Care for our environment is about survival, of course, but it is also the bedrock of human flourishing. Fiscal policies and investment that enhance our environment will create a decent and productive place in which all of us can live and work. Now, I am well known as being a prolific drinker of the highly delicious flat white, which seems to have the right proportion of coffee to frothy milk. I drink a lot of it. Nevertheless, I was disappointed that even a simple thing like a reusable cup levy was rejected in this Budget. I am sure that it would have had an immediate effect, like the very successful plastic bag levy, and I for one will go on the record as being happy to try to carry a reusable cup, just as I now carry a “bag for life”. As the Government consider spending £291 million to extend the Docklands Light Railway to help serve the 18,000 new homes that are planned in east London and they consult on the creation of a “Great Thames Park”, the Budget has missed the opportunity to gird these exciting developments with strong environmental protection.

Like the Government and all of us, I am sure that the Church of England must do much more to improve its environmental position. The Church will do all it can to help and is indeed leading the way on issues such as ethical investment, but so much more is needed. It is the earth itself that is crying out. The poorest in the world are suffering first and suffering most. We have a moral duty to keep global warming well below the 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels and limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, as the Paris Agreement commits us to, and we simply need to develop policies that will make this happen.

Christians say the following words several times every day—indeed, we say them each day in this House—“give us today our daily bread”. It means learning what constitutes enough and not asking for or expecting anything more. It is an uncomfortable but urgently necessary economic corrective to many of our policies and all our expectations. My hope, and indeed my prayer, is that the Treasury will begin work now on planning for and scoping more profound environmental measures as it prepares for the next Budget. I fear that our planet cannot sustain many more missed opportunities.